UP CLOSE: Young family who fled Afghanistan in fear of their lives - start new life in Cheshire East
By Ryan Parker
12th May 2022 | Local News
A young family who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, have started a new life in Cheshire East - away from the horrors they left behind.
Maryam, her husband and three young children had no time for family goodbyes when the British Embassy contacted them in August - telling them to leave immediately.
Less than an hour later they were caught up in chaotic scenes at the airport, terrified as they shielded their young children from gunfire - desperately hoping they would be among the lucky ones airlifted to safety.
Overnight, this young family had gone from a normal life where they had good jobs, a home, friends, and good schools for their children - to refugees with no idea what the future held.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in Cheshire East this week, Maryam, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said: "My husband worked for the British Embassy and I used to work in an office based job.
"One of the main reasons behind our relocation to the UK was due to the possible threat to my husband and his safety in Afghanistan. His association with the British Embassy put him at high risk.
"Just two days after the Taliban took over, the government relocated us to the UK."
Maryam described how they had a good life in Afghanistan and she had studied for her Bachelor Degree at one of the country's top universities.
Then everything came crashing down – and they escaped with just one set of clothes each.
"On August 17, 2021, the second day when the Taliban took over the country, we received short notice from the British Embassy that as soon as possible we must leave for the airport," said Maryam.
"It was a very bad situation at that time. The airport was blocked and lots of guns firing everywhere and it was a very horrible time.
"Me and my kids were scared a lot and we hid our heads."
She said after trying to get through the terrified crowds as thousands were trying to flee the country, they managed to find a back door at the airport.
"They identified our ID and then they allowed us to enter," she said, explaining British soldiers then escorted them to a secure area.
"When we were there we felt safe," she said. "After waiting for hours we got the military flight."
Maryam and her family had anticipated they would have to leave their homeland for safety reasons and had expected to fly out much earlier – but it didn't happen.
"We packed three months before and we planned to come here but for some reason our flight was delayed," she said.
"Everything was packed and when we heard about this short notice we just left everything, all our luggage. We just came with one set of clothes and that was it.
"I got some nappies and clothes for the little one. My husband said ignore everything, our lives are much more important than everything.
"In 30 minutes we just left the house and rushed to the airport. They said maybe the situation would get worse and it happened."
The family flew to Birmingham Airport before being moved to a hotel in Manchester where they quarantined for 10 days.
They then moved to a hotel in Cheshire East and were there for more than a month.
They have nothing but praise for the Cheshire East staff, NHS officials, hotel workers and all the other agencies which have helped them since they arrived.
"When we arrived at the Cheshire East hotel the staff and Cheshire East representatives were very friendly and welcoming and they gave us a room to stay and there was a very nice environment in the hotel, the kids enjoyed it," she said. "We were very happy.
"Cheshire East Council were very friendly and helpful all the time and made sure our stay in the hotel was comfortable.
"They helped us to process all the official documents and every day they arranged a trip to a historical place, or shopping or a zoo, it was very good.
"The council's interaction with all the Afghan families was very professional and high standard with timely delivery of various documents which made our life easier in the UK."
Maryam and her family now have a permanent home in Cheshire East – which they love.
For safety reasons, the family's real name or where they live in the borough will not be revealed.
Maryam said: "We like the freedom, the peace and there is lots of opportunity here.
"We are happy here. The children are very happy at school, they are settled and they have made lots of friends and their English is improving day by day which makes me very proud because many times I receive an appreciation letter for my son and the teachers say he is doing a very good job.
"When you see that your kids are free and happy, it makes you happy as well."
Unfortunately things are not going so well for many of the families left behind in Afghanistan.
Maryam said: "The poverty level is going up and there is no work, especially for women, and no school for girls."
She told how her relatives had told her their daughters can no longer attend school.
"The first day of the spring is the first day of school in Afghanistan and the girls were very excited to go to the school," said Maryam.
"The night before they had prepared their clothes, the bags, the books, everything and they were very excited to go there and then they came back and they cried a lot – the Taliban don't allow us to educate, they said no school for girls at all," said Maryam.
Maryam loves the freedom, the peace and the opportunity she and her family have found in Cheshire East.
She was successful in getting a full time job within weeks of arriving here and is enjoying life – but she hopes one day it will be safe for her and her family to return home.
"I love my country and I hope that one day I can go back and live there or meet my relatives," she said.
"I hope I can go one day, but now it's not safe for us."
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